Death Anniversaries: Three Ways to Respond
I call July “death month.” Both my parents died in July, three years apart. I’ve been through lots of Julys since Dad’s death in 2006, and I’ve noticed three ways I’ve responded.
We cannot necessarily pick the way we will feel on the anniversary of our loved one’s passing, however, we can prepare ourselves and use the day to further our healing.
Here are the three Ds we may use to address death anniversaries.
Distract. I distracted myself with an intense romance after the death of my father, and on the first anniversary of Dad’s death, I was distracted by the impending breakup. My heart was torn up in so many ways, I hurt too much to know which hurt hurt most.
We may busy ourselves with activities unrelated to our loss. A certain amount of distraction is necessary to weather the throes of grief. Go to the movie. Spend time with friends. But we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.
Dedicate. We dedicated an hour to my mother around the time of the first anniversary of her passing. I joined with others whose loved ones had been in hospice, too, and we memorialized them. We released balloons, ate cake and talked about our parents.
A ritual that memorializes our loved ones can be helpful in acknowledging our loss. We may choose a public expression or a private one, such as visiting the grave. We may dedicate something we do on the anniversary in honor of our loved one. Again, this is a way of admitting the importance of our loss and fitting it into our lives going forward.
Dive In. We may immerse our day in memory and tears. This may sound like a real downer, but setting aside time to grieve is an important part of healing.
In every year since my mother’s death, I’ve gone over to her and Dad’s home and sifted through their things. I’ve read old letters and looked at old photographs. On the second anniversary, I imagined a conversation with Mom. I spilled out my remorse over not being with her when she died. She seemed to tell me she didn’t know she was going to die that night – so of course, how could I? It was a big step toward forgiving myself.
My husband looked over my shoulder just now and added a fourth D to this list of ways to respond to anniversaries – Denial. We can dread an anniversary so much that we deny we feel anything about it, that we are over the whole loss.
We may become part of our own ambush that way – because grief will find its own way to push through and into our lives if we don’t face it.
What might you add to this list? Do you tend to deal with anniversaries one particular way, or do you use a combination of coping strategies?
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